Campaign to Speed Up Death Penalty Executions Kicks Off

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SACRAMENTO -- One side of California’s death penalty debate kicked their campaign into high gear Thursday.

The campaign to reform California’s death penalty by expediting the process from conviction to execution turned approximately 600,000 signatures into election offices for validation statewide.

“Submitting over 600,000 signatures of people who agree that not only is the death penalty something we need but something we need to fix,” said Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert.

If approved in November, Californians will like have the chance to vote to reform the death penalty process or abolish the death penalty altogether.

“When you’re waiting for justice, it’s like a stranglehold on your life,” said Phyllis Loya.

She has been feeling that hold since 2005 when her son, Pittsburgh police Officer Larry Lasater was murdered. Two years later his killer was sentenced to death, nine years later the case is still in the early rounds of appeals with no execution date in sight.

“I Google my son’s killer's name and find him on a prison pen pal sight talking about what a wonderful person he is,” Loya said.

The 68-year-old say she doesn’t believe she’ll live to see her son’s killer executed.

It’s stories like hers, and that of Marc Klaas, who’s waited 20 years for the execution of his daughter Polly’s murderer that have led police and prosecutors to push for death penalty reform on the November ballot.

“Death row inmates pursue murderous and violent tendencies, mainly with impunity without consideration for their victims. Please support this initiative,” Klaas said.

“We have an obligation to the victims to survivors to the entire state to make sure the sentences would be carried out, it’s the just thing to do,” said Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig.

With nearly 750 inmates on death row, but no executions in the last 10 years, the Death Penalty Reform and Savings initiative is aimed at streamlining the process from death penalty sentencing to execution.

“[The system is] a mess because of the very people who don’t want it to work and we're here to stand together and say we’re sick of it," Schubert said.

The proposals for reforming the death penalty include making more defense attorneys available, putting time restrictions on certain parts of the appeals process and restricting condemned inmates' ability to file claims backers of the measure describe as frivolous. They also aim to cut down on costs by allowing prisons to seek alternate housing for inmates.

“And that will then help us become an efficient system that’s very much like the other states with an efficient system,” Schubert said.

However, voters will likely also be able to vote on an opposing initiative, one that would do away with the death penalty altogether.

Ron Briggs agrees California’s death penalty is broken. He should know, in 1978 he helped his father former state Senator John Briggs craft the law as it currently stands. But Briggs doesn’t think the current death penalty law can be fixed.

“My dad always said 'admit the obvious,' and the obvious to me over 40 years with the death penalty is it’s not going to work,” Briggs said. “It doesn’t work, it costs way too much money.”

He is campaigning for the initiative that would get rid of the death penalty altogether and opt for life in prison without parole. Signatures for that campaign are pending verification for the November ballot.

“It’s so efficient and effective, and we don’t have to worry about killing the wrong person," Briggs said.

Californians opinions on the two death penalty initiatives are split almost in half.

Forty-eight percent of voters favor expediting the death penalty process, 47 percent favor abolishing the death penalty and replacing it with life in prison with the possibility of parole, and 5 percent have no opinion, according to a Field Poll of California registered voters published in January.